My Parents Never Read Me Bedtime Stories
So here are the ones I discovered and devoured myself
I didn’t have a typical childhood. My mom got pregnant with me at 16, and the chaotic energy of my upbringing reflected that. Having young parents meant that were always busy, always working to put food on the table. My nighttime routine comprised my mom tucking me into bed, planting a kiss on my forehead and saying: "I love you, and I'll always love you, forever and ever."
Then she’d turn off the lights, go back to her own room and argue with my dad long into the night about the infinite ways in which he wasn’t measuring up.
One benefit of reading to your children at night is that it strengthens their love for reading and helps to foster their imagination.
My parents never read me bedtime stories, but my imagination flourished anyway. It had to. Because thinking about the world’s innumerable possibilities at night provided an out from the parental disputes that echoed in my head. Drumming up fantasies of princesses and faraway castles with zombie robots and furniture made of gelatin seemed easier than facing reality: that I was an accident that probably (most definitely) ruined my mom’s life. And that my parents’ argument was probably (most definitely) my fault.
Stuck in a situation like mine, you develop independence early. My mom taught me my ABCs, but I took the initiative of whispering them to myself repeatedly until they stuck. Until I knew them like the palm of my hand. Until, at age five, I could read to myself at night. Suddenly, I didn’t have to create my own worlds to escape. I only had to crack open a book to dive into a thousand distinct realities.
Given that I started reading to myself at five, I aged out of the bedtime picture book stories. They were not part of my lived experience. There were no cats in hats, no hungry caterpillars, no green eggs and no honey-loving bears. I might get cancelled for this but I’ve never read a single Dr. Seuss book or watched any of the film adaptations. I jumped a couple of grades ahead in children’s literature, so I imagine there’s a giant hole where these narratives should be. I believe, though, a bedtime story is any story you read at night that brings you joy.
That said, here are the stories that I discovered for myself. The ones that I fell asleep to every night as a kid that illuminated my childhood and helped make life a little more bearable.
Horrible Harriet by Leigh Hobbs
Horrible Harriet follows the tale of a young girl who lives in a nest in the attic of her school. She is horrible, like the title suggests, and often pulls mean-spirited pranks on teachers and students. The weird, mean girl in the attic terrifies everyone until a new kid, Athol Egghead, moves to town and befriends her.
When I think of my bedtime reading, it’s the first title that comes to mind. Harriet was a social outcast, and I often felt that way as a child. Although I never made bat soup for my teachers and kept them prisoner in the school’s basement.
The book speaks to the power of friendship and how one person giving you a chance can change your entire perspective. It also highlights the fact that the people we label as outcasts are sometimes not strange, dangerous or horrible; they’re misunderstood. Horrible Harriet is wickedly funny, and as a kid, I ate that humour up.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
I’ve read most of Roald Dahl’s children’s books: James and the Giant Peach, the BFG, the Witches, the Twits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox. You name it, I’ve read it. I selected Matilda, though, because it’s the first story of his I read and by far, my favourite.
I feel like I am Matilda. My parents weren’t as outright abusive as hers, but a million and one responsibilities often claimed their attention. So, like Matilda, they often left me to my own devices. My upbringing pushed me into self-sufficiency, so I learned to read and write very early and found solace in books. Because I attended Catholic schools all my life, I’ve had my fair share of malevolent headteachers. Thankfully, wherever I went, I always found my Miss Honey.
No, I didn’t develop telekinesis (a damn shame, really) but a sharp affinity and skill for writing that shone at an early age. My Miss Honey nursed this talent, and it’s thanks to her I am where I am today, instead of where products of low-income teenage pregnancies usually end up.
Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
There are too many Nancy Drew books to pinpoint one specific title as my favourite. I’ve consumed so many of them that each one blurs into the next. For a long time, I was also a super fan of the Nancy Drew computer games and would frequent our local library to play them.
The Nancy Drew novels are the poor man’s Sherlock Holmes. Which is not an insult. In my case, they exposed me to mystery, guile and sleuthing, long before Arthur Conan Doyle ever did.
On a personal note, something was comforting about a tragedy occurring, only to be neatly resolved after a 200-page arc. I’ve written about the murder that took place in my childhood home that remains unsolved to this day. I believe my consumption of these books at night was a large part of my detachment and healing from that trauma.
They’re also just a fun time. It feels like you’re part of the puzzle-solving.
W.I.T.C.H. by Elisabetta Gnone
W.I.T.C.H is a graphic novel series, following a group of five friends: Will, Isma, Taranee, Cornelia and Hay Lin (their names spell W.I.T.C.H.). Despite the title, they are not witches but have magical powers over the elements. The girls are also Guardians of the Veil, tasked with protecting Kandrakar, the centre of the known universe from the forces of evil. The series centres around their difficulties balancing their responsibilities with the everyday struggles of growing up.
Even writing this right now, I’m smiling. It throws me back to when I was younger and would check these out of the local library after school. They had a rule that you could only borrow five books at a time, so I’d borrow five volumes, read them at night before bed in one sitting. And go back the next day to borrow some more. These graphic novels are incredible, and I can’t stress that enough. There’s magic and friendship paired with stunning illustrations.
This is terrible because I’m 22, but writing about this series made me remember how much I loved it. So I added six of them to a book order I placed this morning.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
I was a wimpy kid. Like the protagonist of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I came from a dysfunctional family and was a social outcast at school. I also kept a diary. Well, I did until my mom read it. Then, I didn’t keep a diary anymore. Because what’s the point of having a private space to explore your innermost chaotic thoughts if someone reads those thoughts and exposes your chaos to the world?
I became content with reading the main character, Greg Heffley’s, journal about his experiences navigating middle school. He was sarcastic, silly and desperately wished to be rich and famous. And always seemed to worm his way into trouble. Just like me.
All the books in this series are fun, easy reads that I devoured within hours of receiving them.
Honourable mentions: The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan, The Babysitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin and Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling.
I imagine someone will take issue with this article. Those aren’t bedtime stories! According to my trusty friend, Merriam-Webster, a bedtime story is:
“a story read or recounted to someone (such as a child) at bedtime”
I didn’t have the most stable or normal childhood, so no one read to me. Drowning out the awful memories with my imagination sufficed until I was old enough to discover these tales. From then on, I read to myself at night until I fell asleep with my face buried in books. They provided an out, an escape into untraversed worlds where I could live peacefully. Every family dynamic is different, so the idea of bedtime stories is variable. My parents never read me bedtime stories, so I discovered and devoured them myself.
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